I have two brothers: Joshua, who is 17, and Jason, who’s 15th birthday was April 20. Jason likes space stuff, and he plays Kerbal Space Program almost every day. So, for his birthday, Joshua and I decided to make him a spaceship simulation. Joshua would handle the software and write a manual, and I would build the physical parts that make it actually feel like a spaceship and not just a video game.
We decided the setup was going to be Joshua’s laptop connected to a separate monitor. The laptop would run the program and act as a control console, and the monitor would be the window of Jason’s ship. Obviously, a full laptop keyboard would not feel like a spaceship, so we decided to have a few fake buttons that would press certain keys underneath. With less than a week to make everything, we got to work.
I started with a few large cardboard boxes. I didn’t end up using all of them, as I was originally planning to make a helmet. The first thing I made was the laptop screen cover. I added holes in the bottom for lights that would be on the screen.
Next I made the buttons. We collected some lids from various juice bottles, and then chose eight of them to use. I taped a rolled up strip of cardboard under each one, to press the correct key on the keyboard.
Then I made labels for all the buttons. Each label had a Greek letter, as these buttons would be used to type in codes to trigger events.
Next was the keyboard cover. I had some trouble lining it up with the things that would be plugged into the sides of the laptop, but it came out alright in the end.
Meanwhile, Joshua wrote a manual and had it printed. He put the pages into a three-ring binder.
The evening of the 20th, we set up the simulation environment. We put boxes around a desk, and covered them and the desk with blankets. We added a sun shade and some hoses to add to the sci-fi vibe, and used the closest chair we had to what one would expect in a spaceship.
Then came the big moment, Jason playing the simulation! Starting on the runway of a spaceport on Earth, and with Joshua’s guiding voice as a flight controller, he typed in a couple of codes to launch his ship. The ship reached orbit and approached a warp gate. A little while after entering the gate, an error sounded. One of the ATC oscillation drives had malfunctioned! Jason deduced the correct code to enter from the manual, and the problem was solved. The ship emerged from the end of the warp gate above Mars, where a large spherical space station was in orbit. As he neared the doors, he entered a final code to dock in the station, and the doors opened to a dark tunnel. Lights turned on ahead of his ship for a short distance, before leaving him in complete darkness.
As Jason got up from his chair, he said “That was… disappointing. To say the least.” He likes to give sarcastic remarks, so we can assume he enjoyed it. 😀